Vaccine passport scheme could be ‘counterproductive’ warns scientist

As the vaccination programme continues to roll out across the UK, one expert has warned that they could actually inhibit vaccine uptake
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A behavioural scientist has warned that introducing vaccine passports to allow people to go about their daily lives, such as visiting the pub or hairdressers, could be “counterproductive”.

Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), has said that the implementation of vaccine passports could worsen hesitancy and vaccine uptake for those already unsure about the jab.

‘It would destroy any sense of community’

Vaccine passports could prove counterproductive according to a behavioural scientist (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)Vaccine passports could prove counterproductive according to a behavioural scientist (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Vaccine passports could prove counterproductive according to a behavioural scientist (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Reicher said: “I don’t think that the idea of vaccine passports to get into the pub is a good idea and I think in many ways they could be counterproductive.”

He said that “the notion of in effect making [vaccines] compulsory led to anger and to lowered uptake” amongst those who were already hesitant about receiving a vaccine according to a small survey in Israel, which is back in other international studies.

Professor Reicher said: “I think positive incentives, something that gives you something extra, is one thing.

“People actually aren’t adverse for vaccine passports to travel internationally. But when it comes to negative incentives, to, in effect, bar people from their everyday lives, from social activity, then actually they work in a very different way and people behave very negatively.

“When it comes to excluding people from everyday lives things swap around - and what’s more, it leads to other problems like social division.

“We’d be in a position where those communities who are less likely to get vaccinated begin to be excluded from our city centres, from social life, and that would create a whole swathe of social problems, it would destroy any sense of community which has been so positive in the pandemic.”

What has Boris Johnson said about vaccine passports?

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that pub-goers could be required to provide vaccine certificates when the hospitality sector reopens its doors.

Speaking during Wednesday’s House of Commons Liaison Committee hearing, Johnson said that the requirement to provide proof of vaccination “may be up to individual publicans”.

The Prime Minister suggested that it could only be possible to introduce a vaccine passport scheme once all adults have been offered a jab. He added that no decisions have been made on the matter, and that there will be an update from the Government in April.

Johnson said that there were “difficult issues… moral complexities, ethical problems that need to be addressed”.

Previously, it was announced that Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove will be heading up a review into vaccine passports as part of the Government’s lockdown exit roadmap. The review is due to report by 21 June, and will look at the “ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of [the] potential certification scheme”.

What are other countries planning to do?

The European Union has proposed a Covid-19 vaccine certificate scheme in order to allow international travel to occur once again. The “Digital Green Certificates” would enable passengers to be able to prove that they have received a vaccine, had a recent negative test result or have recovered from the virus.

Denmark has plans to use its “Coronapas” vaccine passport domestically from Easter. Danish residents will have to show proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or virus recovery in order to access services like hairdressers, restaurants and cinemas.

Sweden is also considering similar measures.

Japan is also set to issue digital health certificates to its citizens who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, following in the steps of China which has already implemented such measures.

Israel already has a vaccine passport system in place, where a “Green Pass” is available for those who have been fully vaccinated, or have recovered from Covid-19.

Members of the public have to show the pass in order to access places such as hotels, gyms or theatres.

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